The Pluto Connection: Meet Moon Express' Jim Kaidy
By Nick Azer on July 14, 2015
Among the Google Lunar XPRIZE Moon teams, there are many space veterans who have decided the Moon is a destination we need to get back to---and as it turns out, one of the teams has a big connection to this week's Pluto mission:
Jim Kaidy (left) and Mike Stewarrt (right) of Moon Express, on a big testing day with the NASA Mighty Eagle lander. One of Jim's previous spacecraft, the New Horizons, just reached Pluto!
Jim Kaidy---Moon Express' Guidance, Navigation, and Control ("GN&C") lead---was Lead G&C Engineer (and G&C Flight Software Testing) on the New Horizons mission! Which, after nine years and 3 billion miles, has just now arrived at Pluto for its big fly-by.
Jim at work with the New Horizons spacecraft, which, 10 years later, is now at Pluto...and beyond. [Image: Twitter]
To get from the Pale Blue Dot all the way out to Pluto is no small task---especially from a guidance perspective, where you have to hit a pretty tiny area of space with a spacecraft that happens to be moving at 14km a second. (Like "threading a needle from New York to Los Angeles", as Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it). Bullseye!
Today's New Horizons team celebrating the accomplishment. [Image: NASA]
You don't quite need that speed to reach the Moon's surface (in fact, the slower the better), but you do need an awful lot of precision (as Neil Armstrong demonstrated, dodging all kinds of boulders and narrowly avoiding an abort, on the descent for Apollo 11).
Moon Express' MX-1 will not only be landing on the Moon for their Google Lunar XPRIZE grand prize mission attempt, but many times over the next coming decades, including places as rocky & tricky as the rugged South Pole of the Moon, so Jim and Moon Express will need every bit of his expertise to overcome the challenges presented by the Moon's often-dramatic terrain!
To hear more about Jim and the Moon Express approach, here's a video of him narrating one their early guidance-system test flights on board NASA's "Mighty Eagle":
And for more on his latest work with the team, catch this piece from CNET on Moon Express' Milestone Prize-winning lander tests, which netted the team $1 million for their lander---with a little bit of Jim at the end, basking in the glow:
There's sure to be more celebrations and milestones to come, so stay tuned to see what happens to Jim's latest spacecraft as it takes on its big lunar adventures!